Thursday 29 November 2012

The Bible and Critical Theory 8, 2 (2012)

The latest edition of The Bible and Critical Theory, published in open-access format, contains the following essays:


Neil Elliott
Diagnosing an Allergic Reaction: The Avoidance of Marx in Pauline Scholarship
Contemporary study of the New Testament and of Paul more specifically shows symptoms of avoidance of basic categories of Marxist analysis such as economic class, class struggle, and mode of production. The result is that discussions of economic and social realities are often so abstract and sanguine as to be misleading – an expression, from a Marxist point of view, of the shadow cast over biblical studies by capitalist ideology.

Larry LaFon Welborn
Towards Structural Marxism as a Hermeneutic of Early Christian Literature, Illustrated by Reference to Paul’s Spectacle Metaphor in 1 Corinthians 15:30-32
This essay explores the potential of the structural Marxist theory of Louis Althusser to provide a path beyond the mechanistic and expressive models of causality that have dominated comparative studies of early Christianity in the Greco-Roman environment. The essay analyses representational forms of the self in the ‘society of the spectacle’ that characterized imperial Rome, drawing upon the work of Guy Debord. The potentail of a structural Marxist hermeneutic is illustrated by a comparison of Paul’s spectacle metaphor in 1 Corinthians 15:30-32 with the eighth discourse of Dio Chrysostom.

Giovanni B. Bazzana
Neo-Marxism, Language Ideology, and the New Testament
This essay introduces the discipline of linguistic anthropology and, more specifically, the notion of language ideologies, arguing that it might be put to fruitful use in the study of New Testament texts. Linguistic anthropologists, working on a notion of ‘ideology’ of clear neo-Marxist ascendency, have elaborated a very effective set of tools for the analysis of language as a social practice that both re-inscribes socio-political structures and shapes them through its creative impulses. New Testament scholars, who are bound to deal with texts that are detached from their almost irretrievable original contexts, can benefit from the help of linguistic anthropology in delineating the socio-political profiles and agendas of the writings they are working on.

Joseph Mark Bartlett
Bourgeois Right: Social Location and the Limits of First-Phase Communism in the Rhetoric of 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15 (A Historical Materialist Exegesis)
Second Thessalonians 3:10b offers the teaching that ‘anyone unwilling to work should not eat.’ Both conservative and socialist readers have cited this teaching as an encapsulation of their mutually incommensurable worldviews. I conduct a historical-critical investigation of the situation in which this passage was written; I argue against recent historical reconstructions that posit that 2 Thessalonians is authentically Pauline, and articulate a Sitz im Leben for the text in line with the principles of historical materialism. Specifically, I contend that the Thessalonian community was a tenement church composed entirely of marginalized people who were particularly vulnerable to economic crises in the late first century Roman Empire; this community fit the criteria for what Marx and Lenin would later call first-phase communism. A lack of sufficient employment opportunities led many members to rely too heavily on the community’s agape feast, thus threatening the community’s viability. The situation at Thessalonica can thus be characterized as what Habermas calls a rationality crisis, whereby the community was forced to abandon the core principles of its agapaic communalism and revert to a regressive policy that Marx calls ‘bourgeois right.’ I conclude that modern conservative uses of the text serve different class interests from its author’s and that, while socialist uses of the text share its author’s class interests, those uses starkly illustrate the precariousness of first-phase communism. This precariousness, then, demonstrates that Permanent Revolution is necessary to secure the viability of communist societies against the structural vulnerabilities to which they are especially susceptible in the context of hegemonic capitalism, and thus that Socialism in One Country is a fatally flawed doctrine.

Lance Byron Richey
MarK/X After Marxism: Fernando Belo and Contemporary Biblical Exegesis
In 1974 Fernando Belo’s A Materialist Reading of the Gospel of Mark combined Marxist and structuralist ideas to uncover the revolutionary political themes he claimed were encoded in Mark’s narrative. Although hailed at the time as a visionary exegetical strategy, it has been largely forgotten over the last generation. While some of Belo’s theoretical and political concerns are inevitably dated, his contributions to understanding both the social and political environment of first-century Palestine and how religious texts such as Mark’s Gospel operated within it merit our attention and critical assessment, both of which this paper will attempt to provide. I offer a two-fold discussion of Belo’s materialist approach to Mark in light of subsequent developments in both philosophy and Marxist social theory. First, I will outline and critically assess the theory of texts found in his discussion of the ‘Concept of “Mode of Production”’ which makes possible his exegesis of Mark as a subversive political text. Secondly, I will briefly explore his account of the specific ‘Mode of Production’ operative in first-century Palestine which Belo sees Mark’s Gospel as challenging, with special attention given to its theoretical underpinnings. I conclude that, while Belo’s work is certainly limited both by the state of theory and of the historical knowledge of his time, his ground-breaking efforts to read Mark’s Gospel as a subversive text remains highly relevant to contemporary efforts at materialist exegesis.

Jonathan Bernier
From Historical Criticism to Historical Materialism in the Study of Earliest Christology
Deploying Fredric Jameson’s model of Marxist literary analysis, this article explores the contradictions in developments of early reflections on Christology. Jameson distinguishes between three levels in such analysis: the immediacy of the political, the wider horizon of the social (class and ideology), and then that of history (now understood in terms of mode of production). The key is that texts never operate in isolation, for they become crucial negotiations – as imaginary resolutions of real social contradictions – of wider social and economic shifts. In this light, we may understand the tensions over different Christological models as dimensions of the ideological responses and contributions to the complex shifts in modes of production. Those models may be designated as follows: ‘personified divine attributes,’ ‘exalted patriarchs,’ ‘principal angels,’ ‘messiah,’ and Jesus as the embodiment of ‘divine agency.’

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